Reflections and Perspectives on the role of General Counsel

There have been a number of topics discussed, reviewed or written about over the course of 2018. As the year ends and performance reviews and strategic planning are top of mind, seven areas are noteworthy to consider as part of your 2018 review or to reflect on when preparing 2019 strategic plans.

Know ‘thy’ key stakeholders: Are they internal or external customers or clients? Do you have political clout or favor with the key stakeholders?

If you are unclear about who your stakeholders are, that could be an interesting conversation to propose to your team, the Board, the C-Suite or your peers. It may be a simple question but don’t underestimate its ability to generate conversation and hopefully to clarify direction, mission, and formal and informal organizational relationships.

Build trust with diverse stakeholders
Part of building or rebuilding is securing trust. How do you engage or build trust in or with your legal team, your peers, the Board and internal and external stakeholders?
Trust begins with open and honest communication in a business context (and context matters). Professional trust is limited to issues, thoughts, ideas, and reactions to decisions relating to work. Can your legal team speak trustingly around you? Can you engage honestly with your peers and or members of the C-Suite and with Board members? If you suspect that trust may be questionable, seek advice and counsel. Spending time on building trust will pay dividends now and in the future.

What unique competencies are you bringing to the organization? ?
Technology can replace rote, routine, and repetitious tasks. It cannot, however, replace the creative human mind or passion to name two valued organization characteristics.
Technology is not going away, and there will be a place at the table for technological upgrades and impacts on the law and on business- but push the boundary or think broadly outside the box-how can the technology change the practice of law? What’s your vision of the legal department and how can technology support your vision? Can you imagine if…?

What’s your gravitas?
Do you have gravitas with key stakeholders? Are you a partner or a guardian? This can be a deeply effective question to ask yourself, and your key stakeholders. It’s also a way to ask for feedback without making the conversation personal or subjective. Partners are much more likely to be invited to a seat at the table than a guardian- unless the guardian is also a trusted advisor which is a more narrowly defined role and valued. Ask yourself, long-term which role has greater viability?

Shifting Priorities and Staying the Course
In a world of constant change and multiple priorities, what is a theme (theme is broader than priorities) of great relevance to your organization? Hitch your wagon to the vision of the organization- even if they shift- and you will have a greater chance of staying relevant, ensuring your seat at the table and creating personal and professional synergies that will help you excel. It’s the difference between focusing on the job title vs. profession. Professions are more enduring than titles.

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I):
Hopefully, one day D&I roles in organizations may not be necessary- it will be part of the fabric of the institution. Until then, if you are unsure or unclear what that may mean for your legal department, seek clarification, meet with the D&I team. Diversity can be an effective recruiting and retention strategy for you internally, externally and in building your career trajectory.

Succession Planning:
What’s your legacy in your organization? Have you built a sustainable legal infrastructure that can thrive beyond your tenure? Is the legal process institutionalized to sustain your departure? These may be some tough questions to ask but it will be time well spent on the planning and execution of a sustainable legal function.